Notre Dame stands vindicated

Where does the University of Notre Dame go for its apology?

As chronicled here  in late 2004, Notre Dame was branded with the scarlet "R" after dismissing head football coach Tyrone Willingham, who is black, before his first and only contract with the Irish expired. Nationally prominent sports journalists like Michael Wilbon of ESPN and The Washington Post, Mark May of ESPN, and John Saunders also of ESPN concluded that Notre Dame was a racist institution for its action. Notre Dame, they suggested, performed a modern-day lynching to appease influential alumni and boosters of the football program who, if one did not know any better, paraded around the vistas of campus in white hoods.

Constantly overlooked amid such vitriol leveled at Notre Dame was Willingham's terrifyingly bad record on the field against traditional powerhouse programs and the less-than-adequate recruiting classes Willingham was bringing in under the Golden Dome. The on-field embarrassments included losing to ND's arch-rival, Southern Cal, by a combined 93 points in three games and eight games to other schools by 25 points or more. Willingham's recruiting classes did not garner the accolades necessary for any school to compete for national championships, the goal in South Bend.

History has repeated itself in Seattle, Washington, where this week Willingham was fired as head coach at the University of Washington. The Huskies are 0-7 thus far this season, have lost nine straight games dating back to last season and, ironically enough, lost to Notre Dame this past Saturday by a score of 33-7. Willingham's overall record at Washington stands at 11-32. To his credit - and as he did at Notre Dame - Willingham said the reasoning behind his most recent firing was his inability to win. But it is goes beyond that.

Willingham's recruiting has been fair wherever he has been (he coached Stanford prior to taking the job at Notre Dame). Fair cuts it at average programs, but Willingham has left a wake of mediocrity at major, storied programs. He failed to recruit a single offensive lineman in his 1996 class at Stanford, and left the Cardinal with an offensive line that the San Francisco Chronicle described as "a line that couldn't run block, couldn't protect the passer, and couldn't stand up to more experienced defenses at virtually every turn." Notre Dame is just now creeping out of the hole Willingham left there. Washington, a program with a rich history with national championships and Rose Bowl appearances, will not be good for a long time.

Recruiting is everything in college football. A school can have the best coach and the best staff, alumni willing to shell out millions just to see alma mater spend the New Year in warm climes and playing for championships and money. But without the players, all of that is meaningless. Willingham, for whatever reason, could not attract great players to his programs - he attracted good players, not great. This is the pattern he established at Stanford, South Bend, and Seattle.

Do not weep for Willingham. He left Notre Dame with a $6 million buyout in his pocket and says good-bye to Seattle with another million in hand. No doubt, his apologists in the media will again say "unfair" and complain that Willingham was not given a fair chance to implement his own players into his system, whatever it is. That is just not so; the only thing Willingham has proven he can do is assemble teams that are mediocre or much, much worse. Willingham banks $7 million for lackluster performance. Not bad for a failure in the high-stakes game of intercollegiate football.

Notre Dame was absolutely correct in firing Willingham before his inept coaching and recruiting set the program back more than he already had. Wilbon, Saunders, and their ilk were wrong then and owe the Irish an apology now, delivered as loudly and boldly as was their judgment that Notre Dame made a move that had everything to do with race. As the University of Washington has demonstrated, letting Willingham go is not a racial thing, it is an emergency measure to rid of itself of an individual who has shown himself incapable of coaching and recruiting at a major school. Notre Dame did nothing more, and now Washington has done likewise for the same reasons.

So does Notre Dame get a mea culpa from those who charged racism, or are we to believe Washington athletics merely willingly hoisted itself on a petard of football ineptitude just for the satisfaction of keeping a brother down?

Matthew May welcomes comments at matthewtmay@yahoo.com

Where does the University of Notre Dame go for its apology?

As chronicled here  in late 2004, Notre Dame was branded with the scarlet "R" after dismissing head football coach Tyrone Willingham, who is black, before his first and only contract with the Irish expired. Nationally prominent sports journalists like Michael Wilbon of ESPN and The Washington Post, Mark May of ESPN, and John Saunders also of ESPN concluded that Notre Dame was a racist institution for its action. Notre Dame, they suggested, performed a modern-day lynching to appease influential alumni and boosters of the football program who, if one did not know any better, paraded around the vistas of campus in white hoods.

Constantly overlooked amid such vitriol leveled at Notre Dame was Willingham's terrifyingly bad record on the field against traditional powerhouse programs and the less-than-adequate recruiting classes Willingham was bringing in under the Golden Dome. The on-field embarrassments included losing to ND's arch-rival, Southern Cal, by a combined 93 points in three games and eight games to other schools by 25 points or more. Willingham's recruiting classes did not garner the accolades necessary for any school to compete for national championships, the goal in South Bend.

History has repeated itself in Seattle, Washington, where this week Willingham was fired as head coach at the University of Washington. The Huskies are 0-7 thus far this season, have lost nine straight games dating back to last season and, ironically enough, lost to Notre Dame this past Saturday by a score of 33-7. Willingham's overall record at Washington stands at 11-32. To his credit - and as he did at Notre Dame - Willingham said the reasoning behind his most recent firing was his inability to win. But it is goes beyond that.

Willingham's recruiting has been fair wherever he has been (he coached Stanford prior to taking the job at Notre Dame). Fair cuts it at average programs, but Willingham has left a wake of mediocrity at major, storied programs. He failed to recruit a single offensive lineman in his 1996 class at Stanford, and left the Cardinal with an offensive line that the San Francisco Chronicle described as "a line that couldn't run block, couldn't protect the passer, and couldn't stand up to more experienced defenses at virtually every turn." Notre Dame is just now creeping out of the hole Willingham left there. Washington, a program with a rich history with national championships and Rose Bowl appearances, will not be good for a long time.

Recruiting is everything in college football. A school can have the best coach and the best staff, alumni willing to shell out millions just to see alma mater spend the New Year in warm climes and playing for championships and money. But without the players, all of that is meaningless. Willingham, for whatever reason, could not attract great players to his programs - he attracted good players, not great. This is the pattern he established at Stanford, South Bend, and Seattle.

Do not weep for Willingham. He left Notre Dame with a $6 million buyout in his pocket and says good-bye to Seattle with another million in hand. No doubt, his apologists in the media will again say "unfair" and complain that Willingham was not given a fair chance to implement his own players into his system, whatever it is. That is just not so; the only thing Willingham has proven he can do is assemble teams that are mediocre or much, much worse. Willingham banks $7 million for lackluster performance. Not bad for a failure in the high-stakes game of intercollegiate football.

Notre Dame was absolutely correct in firing Willingham before his inept coaching and recruiting set the program back more than he already had. Wilbon, Saunders, and their ilk were wrong then and owe the Irish an apology now, delivered as loudly and boldly as was their judgment that Notre Dame made a move that had everything to do with race. As the University of Washington has demonstrated, letting Willingham go is not a racial thing, it is an emergency measure to rid of itself of an individual who has shown himself incapable of coaching and recruiting at a major school. Notre Dame did nothing more, and now Washington has done likewise for the same reasons.

So does Notre Dame get a mea culpa from those who charged racism, or are we to believe Washington athletics merely willingly hoisted itself on a petard of football ineptitude just for the satisfaction of keeping a brother down?

Matthew May welcomes comments at matthewtmay@yahoo.com